Bangkok, a sprawling Asian metropolis of almost 8.3 million people, is the capital of Thailand. Glittering shopping malls and glittering temples abound, and through it all, the Chao Phraya river flows. However, if it is your first time visiting the city, it is highly possible you will end up in the area through which a never-ending supply of backpackers flows; Khao San Road. This is very special place, a time suck like nowhere else you’ve ever been. If you are not careful, you will end up wasting time on Khao San Road.
Where is Khao San Road?
Arriving in Bangkok, taxi drivers will yell an unknown word at you “Banglumphu”. Don’t panic, this is where you are heading. Banglumphu is the area of Bangkok that contains Khao San Road. Once this road was it, a five minute stroll from end to end. However, “Khao San” in spirit, now covers several streets in this area. Wasting seven days in one tiny area may seem crazy, but you would be amazed at how much there is to do here, let alone the spectacular sightseeing just a short distance away.
You Said “Time Suck” – Why is it People Are Wasting Time on Khao San Road
Oh yes! Mr Fluskey and I have spent at least ten days bumbling around Khao San and the surrounding areas. I never would have believed that it was possible but with a few day tours, and a trip to the near by palace, plus a mooch around the stalls…suddenly it’s five days later and you make a resolution to move on…tomorrow.
Bangkok is a major hub for people who are planning to travel around South-East Asia, us included. It is many people’s first stop and so they go a little crazy. They are in baggy pants, beer in hand and sun on their faces, ready to party! We found it all very liberating after a month in India where casual drinking was not a part of the culture, meals weren’t lingered over and shorts were stuffed firmly at the bottom of my backpack. On Khao San Road, I could finally get those denim bad boys on, lay around on Thai cushions and finally get hold of my damn pills (more on that later…and no, not drugs).
So how did we end up wasting time on Khao San Road?
The Best Shopping on Khao San Road
Get ready to start craving things that you never knew you wanted! Lining both sides of Khao San road is a host of stalls selling a bit of everything. If you want fake Haviana flip flops, baggy “traveller pants” covered in elephants or flashing plastic crap, you are going to LOVE it here!
The Ipod People
My favourite stall! These guys will take your device and add media files of your favourite TV shows or films. It feels scary to leave your precious device with them, and I’m pretty sure it would completely invalidate your travel insurance, but I have never had any problem.
The Eastern end of Khao San Road, and the road that it crosses are dotted with silver shops. Here you will find all kinds of jewellery, mostly 925 silver. This is the international standard of 92.5% silver. From the chunky to the delicate, the sparkle of silver glitters from every jewellery shop window.Rainbow Silver is one of the best known. They can make custom designs as well as ship their goods worldwide. I have a gorgeous silver ring that reminds me of Princess Jasmine’s head band.
Baggy pants, Chang beer tees and “same same but different” strap tops greet you at every turn. The cheap cotton leggings and other tie dye bits are plentiful and not the worst quality we saw. If you are lucky, you’ll meet someone who claims to know the girl that gives the finger from the front of many a cotton stretch vest…none of them do.
If the standard backpacker fare doesn’t appeal, there are floaty maxi dresses and swimwear galore. You can even pick up a cheap tailored suit, Buddy’s has a great reputation. Getting married soon? You can get your groom decked out, and then down the road are loads of bridal shops full of stunning white gowns.
Pretty round fairy lights, the ever-present triangular Thai cushions and wooden statues can be purchased all along the road. You’ll find the best choice in the covered market between Khaosan Road and Soi Ram Butri. It is illegal to export any images of the Buddha so you may be taking a risk by picking up that meditating ornament.
We spent countless hours wandering these stalls and ended up buying a new backpack, fairy lights and a little speaker.
It would hard to understate just how important 7 Eleven is to you when you are travelling through South-East Asia. Not only does it sell food and drinks but insect repellent, waterproofs ponchos, toiletries and other useful stuff. Even if you are on the tightest of budgets, you will find things you can afford; the cheapest bottled water on Khao San Road…even just the free air con can work to refresh you.
If yo are from the UK. the sight of a Boots store in Thailand is confusing and wonderful in equal measure. You will find many of your most well-loved British brands and you can purchase medication that you recognise. Boots saved my skin. I managed to forget five of my six packets of “the pill”. I was NOT looking forward to five uncomfortable months that I wasn’t prepared for. Imagine my joy to see a stack of lilac Cilest boxes behind the counter. Plus, moisturiser that I knew for certain didn’t have whitening agent in it…I am pale enough thank you very much!!
The Best Food on Khao San Road
Where do I start? There is some delicious food here (and some that is very average) but mostly, it is yummy! You can eat your way around the world from McDonald’s to Marrakesh and Italy to India. Here are a few of our favourites:
Pad Thai – Up and down Khao San
Wasting time on Khao San Road, you will definitely have come across the wheeled stalls with tubs of noodles, beansprouts and peanuts. These have been here forever and the pad thai you will get is cheap, good and best of all, you can choose what you want to add, or not. We have forever searched for a good pad thai at home in UK but it seems that you need a wok that has been cooking noodles all day, every day, to get the fullest flavour.
Chilli Chill – Opposite the Western end of Khao San Road
If you have been Thailand for a while, and fancy something different then head to Chilli Chill for a dose of Indian cuisine. The portions are good, the prices are reasonable and it is all very tasty. Unlike many of the local cafes, you aren’t going to be lounging around enjoying the atmosphere. This is a place to come and eat good food. Upstairs they have a shisha area but this isn’t always open.
Green House – Soy Ram Butri
We have watched this cafe evolve from a little backstreet place, to somewhere with a huge internet cafe, to a big time payer in Khao San’s offerings. This isn’t the cheapest place to eat but the food, Thai or international has never failed to delight us. The tom yam is fiery, the hummus is creamy and the fruit shakes are always top notch.
May Kaidee’s – Tanao Road
You don’t need to worry that you are accidentally getting pork broth or that your food has been cooked in the same oil as meat here at this fantastic vegetarian and vegan spot. Food is excellent quality, very fresh and their light raw food dishes cut through the never ending fried rice of the large uninspired restaurants that you may end up in time after time. They also offer vegetarian cooking classes that range from a full ten day course, to a three hour chilli paste intensive.
The Best Drinks on Khao San Road
Drinking is a classic past time around Khao San. This has lead to many a traveller spending a few extra days here to shake off their hangover. You can’t help but notice that they are so keen to promote the drinks that the bar girls are dressed as your favourite tipples.
Honestly, thing change on Khao San and so any bars that I recommend may be gone by the time you get there. Anywhere that serves the syrupy, still Thai Red Bukll (or M150) or the ever present Chang beer, you are in for a fun night. Beware, the 100 baht frozen strawberry daiquiris, they are strong and the rum is local so the hangovers are bad! One bar that we can guarantee will be there is:
Lucky Beer – Khao San Road
Chances are, you’ll end up in this bar/cafe/restaurant at some point. It is open all day and all night, smack bang in the middle of Khao San Road. Lucky Beer is a basic place. Food that is cheap, beer that is cheap and decor that is cheap. Street performers like to locate themselves just in front of it so it is a great place to observe from. If there is nobody putting on a show, it is still the perfect place to people watch from.
What Else Can You Find on Khao San Road
Do you need a bus ticket to Ranong, a boat ticket to Koh Phangnan or a train ticket to Chiang Mai? You will find a shop front every few metres who can sel you those and much, much more. Most of them provide the same services, be that travel tickets or day tours. Take your time to work out exactly what you want, and try a few places to get the best prices. Make sure you know what is included (lunch, entrance fees etc) and what quality of transport you will be travelling on.
Again, visit lots of spots to get the best exchange rates!
Muay Thai Lessons
Just up the road from Khao San Road is Sor. Vorapin gym. The lessons here are fast, furious and fiery hot! You will be a sweaty mess by the time you are halfway through but it is a great way to experience Thai boxing. This isn’t a place to come for a longer course, but if you just want to try it once, it’s a handy option.
A word of warning – If you pick up a tuk tuk on Khao San Road, you are liable to be ripped off. A full day tour for 20 baht, or even for free, means you’ll spend most of the day being driven between shops that hand them a hefty commission (that you’ll be paying) if you buy anything. These guys are just sitting here to squeeze pennies from Westerners.
Where to Stay on Khao San Road
A large, hotel with one building full of nice double rooms, and a cheaper annex. It is based around a courtyard so can be noisy, but it is clean and modern. There is a small pool on the roof but you would need to get there early to bag a sunbed as they aren’t very plentiful. You can book here.
A clean, midrange option (that’s backpacker midrange). You can get a private room and bathroom. Plus, there is a huge pool on the roof, with a massage room next to it. If you have been in cheap hostels, this will feel pretty luxurious. You can book here.
A cheap, clean guesthouse with larger than average rooms. It’s location just back from Khao San means you are just a few seconds from the party, but the noise levels are greatly reduced. We slept well here. You can book here.
Mad Monkey Hostel
A party hostel, and destination in it’s own right. There is a large pool to cool off in, and it is a new hostel so it is tip top condition. Not only is Mad Monkey a fun place to stay, you know that some if the money you have paid is umped into communities around Asia that need the funds; it’s a party hostel with a heart.
Have you ever tried to go down Khao San Road on Google Streetview? I just tried it and the western end looks awful. People are moving too much and the bright lights leave the pictures a fuzzy mess. That sums up Khao San for me. It is a hot mess, but the kind that you can’t help but love.
Returning time and after time, we are always slightly stunned by the pace of change around Banglumphu. There is always something new to see, old favourites to revisit and things that w3 really must get around to one day. I think we will be wasting time on Khao San Road for many visits to come.
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